Sanctification

You Don’t Need *A* Book, You Need *THE* Book

“Can you recommend a book on how to submit to my husband?”

“What’s a good book on biblical womanhood?”

“I’m going through [difficult life circumstance]. Can you suggest a good book on how I can cope with that?”

I’ll bet if someone did a study to find out which demographic of people reads the most books, it would be Christians. Christians are readers – there’s no denying that – and that’s a good thing.

It always makes my heart smile when a reader asks if I can recommend a good (read: biblical, and by a doctrinally sound author) book on a particular area of sanctification or a life issue she’s struggling with. That tells me she wants to learn what the Bible says and obey it. And that is no small thing in evangelicalism today.

Hear me: Reading good, doctrinally sound books is a good thing.

But – just as with any other good thing – too much of a good thing isn’t the best thing. And letting a good thing veer out of its lane isn’t the best thing.

If you dedicate twelve hours every day to prayer, you’ll never get to the laundry, the bills, the cooking, and the cleaning. If the baby is running a fever and you exegete a chapter of the Bible instead of giving her some medicine or taking her to the doctor, you’re misapplying your Bible study time.

And, while it may not be quite as obvious, we can sometimes face the same challenge with good books.

In my experience there are two general dilemmas that motivate today’s Christian to seek out a good book.

The first is: “I don’t know what the Bible says about _____ topic. I need a book that will teach me so I can correctly understand what Scripture says about it.” For example, a few weeks ago in a Mailbag article, I answered a lady who wanted to know about the eternal destiny of unborn babies who die. Among other resources, I recommended John MacArthur’s book which explains the Scriptures and theology related to that topic.

The second dilemma is: “I know Scripture teaches that Christians are supposed to _____. How do I carry that out in my day to day life?” Or, “I have this difficult situation in my life. What specific things do I do to navigate or handle it in a godly way?” For example, “How do I submit to my husband?” or, the lady from the aforementioned Mailbag article might have asked, “What should walking through the grief of losing a child look like in my daily life?”

The first dilemma is easy and appropriate to plug a book into. The second? Not so much.

Why? Because in the second dilemma we’re asking good books to get out of their lane and perform a task they’re not suited to perform: sanctification. When you’re trying to drive a nail into a board, a hammer is the proper tool for the job, not a screwdriver. You can bang on the nail with the screwdriver, and you might even drive the nail into the wood a millimeter or two, but the bottom line is, you need a hammer. That doesn’t make hammers good and screwdrivers bad, it just means you use the appropriate tool for the job at hand.

And in cases of, “Where does the rubber of Scripture meet the road of my unique, individual life?” the right tool for the job at hand – the method God has prescribed in His Word – is not reaching for a book written by man, it’s God’s sanctifying work in your heart and life. And that’s a big pot of gumbo with a lot of different ingredients in it:

  • Studying your Bible
  • Prayer- for help, for wisdom, for guidance, for strength
  • Obedience to the Word
  • Faith, trust, and utter dependence on God
  • Getting good counsel from godly friends and loved ones, your pastor, or spiritually mature women in your church

And the final ingredient that goes into the pot? Action. Step out on faith in God and His Word to help you and guide you, and just do it. Try. Figure it out as you go.

If you want to learn how to ride a bicycle, you’re eventually going to have to stop reading books about bicycles and get on one and ride. Feel that balance and coordination of muscle movements in your own body. Learn by doing.

And, guess what? You’re going to fall down a few times. You’re going to try things that don’t work. You’re going to sin (and repent and be forgiven). And you’ll learn and grow from that. Falling is part of the learning and growing process of sanctification.

for the righteous falls seven times and rises again,
Proverbs 24:16a

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.
Psalm 37:23-24

I think we believe that success is in not falling. It’s not. It’s in getting back up and learning mastery of the skill.

The Bible never says we won’t fall. It says that when we do, God is holding our hand, and He’ll help us get back up.

But learning and growing and falling can be a messy, frustrating process that takes a long time. And what we want is a fast, streamlined formula that bypasses the mess and gives us guaranteed results. And, without even realizing it, we can fall into the mindset of thinking that the right book will be the magic bullet to solve our problem. We want a book to tell us what to do to keep from falling – and we think that’s mastery or success. But it isn’t. Mastery and success come from doing, from going through the process. We want a book to tell us how to get the right answer to our problem, but while the right answer is important, the growth, maturing, and mastery of going through the process is more important to our spiritual growth.

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12b-13

And it’s not just that walking through the process of working out your own salvation with the Lord and His Word rather than reaching for a book is the way God has prescribed, it’s that God’s way is far superior to reaching for a book, because God’s way is divinely powered by the Holy Spirit.

When you pick up a book written by a human being, it can give you practical tips and good advice and maybe even point you to some passages of Scripture you should study. But the Bible doesn’t just tell us what to do and give us some good ideas, it is actually, literally transformative as we are reading it.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

The Holy Spirit moves in and around and through His Word as you’re reading it to supernaturally work to conform your heart and mind to the image of Christ. That’s something you can’t get from any other book, no matter who wrote it or how doctrinally sound it is.

And one of the most amazing things about the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work through His Word is that it’s personal. Books, by definition, have to be “one size fits all” – generally applicable to a wide audience. They can’t tell you what submitting to your husband in your marriage in your life circumstances is going to look like at 10:17 a.m. next Tuesday. But Scripture can, as God uses it to sanctify you.

But there’s one other aspect of the knee jerk, “I need a book” mindset that we need to be really careful about.

If, every time there’s an issue in our lives, our reflex reaction is to get on social media and ask for book recommendations instead of turning to the Word, prayer, and godly counsel, is that not a subtle, functional denial of the sufficiency of Scripture?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us…
2 Peter 1:3a

When the Bible says it will make us complete, equipped for every good work and all things that pertain to life and godliness, that’s exactly what it means: Every. All. We do not need other books in order to handle life’s situations in a godly way. And every Believer who came along before Christian books were a thing is proof of that. Good books aren’t a bad thing, and they can be helpful, but the Bible says it is sufficient – all we need – for anything that comes our way.

But when we reach for a book before we reach for the Bible, aren’t we saying with our actions, “The Bible’s not enough. I need more. I need something better.”?

I can’t answer that for you and you can’t answer that for me, but it’s a good thing to ask ourselves and answer honestly before God.

Good, solid, doctrinally sound books aren’t the bad guy. They can be wonderfully helpful and encouraging. But let’s make sure we’re submitting to God’s prescribed methods of sanctification, esteeming and depending on God’s supernatural work in our hearts through His Word, and not accidentally eroding the sufficiency of Scripture.

Let’s be people of the Book, before we’re people of the books.

Christian women, Parenting

Throwback Tuesday ~ Avoiding the Creepers: Six Ways to Raise a Biblically Strong Woman

Originally published May 15, 2015

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 
2 Timothy 3:1-7

If someone were to ask you, “What kind of person do you want to raise your daughter to be?” how would you answer? Caring? Independent? Loyal? Kind?

I’m betting none of us would answer “weak,” “burdened with sins,” “easily led astray by her passions,” or “unable to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” Yet in these last days in which we find ourselves, that’s exactly what many good-hearted Christian mothers with nothing but the best of intentions are raising their daughters to be. It’s not that they want their daughters to grow up to be spiritually weak or led astray by sin or unbiblical teaching, it’s just that they lack the skills and tools necessary for properly training their daughters in the Scriptures and godliness.

Maybe you’re one of those moms. You want to train your daughter to be a wise, godly, discerning woman, but you’re not quite sure how. Hey, we all have those areas of our lives that we need a little help with. As an older mom myself, maybe I can lend a hand.

My daughter is almost twenty, and while she’s nowhere near perfect, by the grace of God, she is a godly young lady. Looking back, there are many things my husband and I did wrong as parents. But God, in His mercy, covered our failures and saw all of us through as He taught us through His word how to raise a biblically strong woman.

6 Ways to Raise a Biblically Strong Woman

1. Set an example.

Our daughters learn by watching us. Faithfully study your Bible, pray, attend church, obey God’s word, submit to your husband, repent and ask forgiveness when you sin, and serve others and your church together.

2. Learn, and teach your daughter, good hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics is just a fancy word for rightly handling God’s word. Use a reliable Bible translation. Understand Scripture in its immediate and overall context. What was the author’s intended meaning, his audience, genre, and culture? Point your daughter to Christ as you study God’s word together.

3. Find a doctrinally sound church, join it, and attend faithfully as a family.

Study God’s word and compare everything that’s preached and taught to Scripture (in context). Does your church’s teaching line up? Then be committed to attending every single week, not just when you feel like it or when there’s nothing better to do. Instill in your daughter a love for, and a commitment to, the church.

4. Fight the fluff.

Unfortunately, many of the most popular preachers, teachers, and Christian authors (including women’s Bible study authors) teach and write things that may sound good and make us feel good, but are in direct conflict with Scripture. These are the very people Paul was speaking of in 2 Timothy 3. Teach your daughter to follow only trustworthy teachers whose theology is in line with Scripture.

5. Bring prayer and Scripture into every situation.

She can’t find her favorite doll? Kids picking on her at school? She wants to wear clothes that barely cover her? Discuss what the Bible say about these things. Pray together about them. Lead your daughter into prayer and Scripture as part of daily life, and it will teach her that God is to have authority over every aspect of our lives and that we are to obey Him in all things.

6. Teach her how to share the gospel.

If you’re not sure how to properly present the gospel to someone, learn. You can’t lead your daughter to Christ if you can’t share the gospel with her. If your daughter is already saved, make sure she knows how to share the gospel correctly. The Great Commission was the last instruction Christ gave us before leaving earth, and we are all to be about the business of carrying it out until He returns.

The 2 Timothy passage at the beginning of this article is our commission to guard our households against ungodly ways and people – even those who may falsely call themselves Christians – who might creep in and steal our daughters’ hearts and minds away from Christ. He has charged us to train them in godliness, and we must faithfully answer His call to raise wise, discerning, and biblically strong women of God.

What advice would you offer moms who want to raise
biblically strong women?


This article was originally published at Kaylene Yoder’s Blog.

And for all you boy moms, be sure to check out…

Six Ways to Raise a Godly Man

Holidays (Other), Thanks/Thanksgiving, Top 10

Top 10 Bible Verses on Giving Thanks

Originally published November 20, 2015

thanks

Next to Easter and Christmas, there’s no better holiday that Christians could celebrate than Thanksgiving. Scripture reminds us over and over that we have a precious Savior and innumerable blessings to thank God for. Here are ten of my favorite Bible verses about giving thanks. Feel free to share them around on social media or print them out to use in your Thanksgiving decor.

1. Psalm 100:4

ps 100 4

2. 1 Corinthians 15:57

1 cor 15 57

3. 1 Chronicles 16:8

1 chr 16 8

4. Ephesians 5:20

Eph 5 20

5. Psalm 69:30

ps 69 30

6. Colossians 3:17

col 3 17

7. Psalm 79:13

ps 79 13

8. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

1 thess 5 18

9. Psalm 86:12

ps 86 12

10. Revelation 7:12

rev 7 12

What’s your favorite Bible verse about giving thanks?

Basic Training, Bible, Bible Study

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: The Bible is Necessary

Originally published March 17, 2017

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:1-4

I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily food.
Job 23:12

More to be desired are [the words of God] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Psalm 19:10

I have a question for you. Try to answer it within three seconds.

Where’s your Bible? (Not the one on your phone or computer- your real Bible.)

Were you able to answer in three seconds because you read it today and remember where you left it when you were finished? Because it stays on your night stand and rarely gets opened? Did it take longer than three seconds because you frequently carry it around with you and can’t remember where you most recently left it?

The point of the question isn’t really where your Bible is in geographical relationship to you, but where you are in relationship to your Bible.

David said God’s word was more valuable to him than gold, even much fine gold.

Job said he treasured God’s word more than his daily food.

Jesus hadn’t eaten a bite in over a month, and He still valued every word that comes from the mouth of God over bread.

If someone put a stack of fine gold in front of you and said you could have it as long as you hardly ever read your Bible, would you take it?

What if you had gone without food for forty days and someone offered you a loaf of bread in exchange for your agreement to put your Bible away and open it only rarely? Could you withstand the temptation?

I’d like to believe I would choose God’s word over a stack of gold or even life-sustaining food. But when I think about all the lesser things I sometimes choose to do instead of setting aside time to study God’s word…

…television
…social media
…reading
…sleeping
…hobbies

…well, I can’t help but wonder:

Do I really value God’s word as deeply as He wants me to?

We need God’s word. It is more necessary to us, spiritually, than food is to us, physically. Yet many Christians unintentionally starve themselves spiritually, thinking a “meal” or two of Scripture at church every week (if they actually attend every week, that is) is enough to sustain them. It’s not. We need to feast on God’s written Word every single day.

We need to know who God is

Saved people are in a one-on-one, personal relationship with God. But how can you have a relationship with someone you don’t really know? How can you love Him, please Him, or enjoy spending time with Him if you know nothing about Him? His character, His attributes, His likes and dislikes, the way He operates – these are all integral to knowing this God who created and saved us. And in His infinite love, God has chosen to reveal all these things about Himself in a book we call the Bible.

We need to know who we are

Just as an employee can’t rightly relate to her employer if she doesn’t understand her role, her place, and her responsibilities, we can’t rightly relate to God unless we understand both who He is and who we are in relationship to Him. We need to understand that He is God and we are not. That He is perfect in holiness and righteousness and we are depraved from the womb. That we are sinners in need of a Savior, created for the purpose of bringing glory to God, servants of the most high King. The only place to learn all of this, and more, about who we are, and where we stand with God, is in the pages of His word.

We need to know what God wants from us

What does God want me to do with my money? How can I be a godly wife if my husband is unsaved? Does God think it’s important for me to go to church? Is it always a sin to lie? Is it wrong to watch pornography? In addition to being a revelation of the nature and character of God, the Bible is also an intensely practical book, instructing Christians on issues of every day life and helping us to understand how God wants us to think, act, and speak. God knows we have questions and in His kindness and mercy has provided all the answers we need in Scripture.

We need to hear from God

While the idea and practice of “hearing God’s voice” is unbiblical, the desire to commune with God- to visit with Him as a loved one – is not. We only have to look back to the Garden of Eden to see that God’s perfect design was for people to fellowship with Him. Because of the Fall, we can’t do that face to face this side of Heaven. For now, we talk to God through prayer and worship. He talks to us through His written Word. Constant communion with God deepens our love for Him and increases our Christlikeness.

More than daily food. More than gold. More than any earthly pleasure, wisdom, or experience, we need God’s word. And we need it every day, all the days of our lives.

Bible Study

A Hard Bible for Hard Times

These days, popular women’s “Bible” studies tend to be seven lessons of fluff, feelings, and false doctrine.

This is the “anti-study”.

Roughly 20 lessons of digging into the text of what can be a challenging passage of Scripture.

I believe you’re up for the challenge, ladies. Let’s study.

A couple of days ago, I launched Ezekiel – our new Bible study here on the blog – with these introductory remarks on social media. I made it pretty clear, both in my social media remarks and the introduction to the study itself that this wasn’t going to be your typical walk-in-the-park women’s “Bible” study designed to make you feel better about yourself.

Ezekiel is a long book. There are parts of it that are going to be hard to understand. There are parts of it that, to our flesh, are going to be boring. There are cubits. Lots and lots of cubits. This is a Bible study that’s going to require extra work – probably with commentaries and study Bibles. And I’m not making any “feel good” guarantees.

And yet, I was overwhelmed by the response from so many readers: “I’m in!” “Sign me up!” “Looks like a good time!” “Excited is an understatement!”

All this about….a hard text? More work? Even as we endure Corona and quarantine, separation from loved ones, the shuttering of our churches, economic hardship, increasing persecution, racial strife, rampant crime, rioting, anarchy, and God only knows what’s next?

Yeah. Want to know why?

It’s the same reason that being bone-weary after a long day of hot, sweaty yard work feels better than the mind-numbed sleepiness you feel when you’ve been binge-watching Netflix in your pajamas all day. The same reason you feel better after a satisfying, well-balanced meal than after snarfing a dozen Oreos.

It’s what we need.

It’s what’s good for us.

It’s accomplishing something lasting.

We need a hard Bible in these hard times.

Think about the hard times the first century Christians of the New Testament went through. For refusing to offer a pinch of incense in worship to Caesar, for declaring that Jesus alone – not Jesus plus the pantheon – is Lord, they were fed to the lions for sport, burned and boiled alive, crucified, beheaded, speared, beaten, stoned, whipped, exiled, and considered “the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”

And for most of that first century, the bulk of the Scriptures Believers had access to was the Old Testament. The part that soft, milquetoasty, “I want a God made in my own image” evangelicals today want to “unhitch” from precisely because it’s hard.

While fearing for their very lives for following Christ, our forefathers in the faith studied the God who flooded the earth for its rebellion against Him, who wiped out pagan nations for their idolatry, who sent horrific plagues upon those who defied Him, and who poured out His wrath on His own people for their sin and spiritual whoredom.

They had a hard Bible during their hard times.

To be sure, they saw, and we also see, the God of mercy, love, and grace who spared Noah, who provided His children with a land flowing with milk and honey, who rescued the Hebrews out of slavery, and who blessed all who were faithful to Him. And we know that all of Scripture – the hard to swallow parts and the easy to embrace parts, the “dig in and study hard” parts and the simple and sweet to the soul parts – all of Scripture is profitable.

But we need a hard Bible for hard times.

Because hard passages that make us stop and spend extra time and effort build discipline, endurance, and patience into our spirits. They make us do the hard work of digging for the nature and character of God and reward us with the treasure of knowing Him more intimately. They show us who God is in a unique way that the easy passages do not.

Feelings, fluff, and false doctrine can never accomplish those ends. They do not prepare us to endure suffering and persecution with strength and dignity, but to whine and complain and focus on the hurt. They do not teach us who God truly is in our trials and temptations, but that we can create a custom-made idol we’re comfortable with and call it “God”. They do not lead us to trust and obey God when the going gets tough, but to abandon His Word and His statutes in favor of worldly means and methods of dealing with difficulties.

Most evangelical women today are spiritually flaccid because no one – not their denomination, nor their church, nor their pastor, nor their Sunday School teachers, nor their women’s ministry leaders, nor their favorite “Bible” study authors – has ever made them do the hard work of wrestling with challenging Scriptures, overcoming them, and adding that victory to their inventory of joy in Christ.

We need to raise the bar.

We need to expect more, not less.

We need to encourage the pink side of the pew to do hard spiritual things, and cheer them on and help them as they try.

The Kingdom doesn’t need weak women who don’t know their Bibles because all they’ve been taught – and all they’ve been taught to hunger for – is feelings, fluff, and false doctrine. Because those women crumple in the face of controversy. They fall away rather than stand and fight.

The Kingdom needs strong, godly women who apply their hearts and minds to knowing and understanding God’s Word and reach down to help their weaker sisters do the same.

Hiding God’s Word in our hearts doesn’t just mean we learn the surface-level do’s and don’t’s, giving us a spiritual Post-It note reminder not to lie and steal. In order to hide something, we first have to possess it. Own it. And to own God’s Word we have to plunge in and swim in it. Breathe it in and out. Drink deeply of it. Eat the honey-sweet scroll. Let it so penetrate our souls’ DNA that when the rooster begins to crow, and the accusers point and say, “I know you. You were with Jesus,” we can plant our feet firmly and mean it when we boldly declare, “Yes. And though others may fall away because of Him, I will never fall away. Even if I must die for Jesus, I will not sin by denying Him.”

Because those hard times are coming.

Indeed, they are already here.

And we need a hard Bible for hard times.